Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Greener RV Vacation?

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It's time to fess us I suppose. I'm doing a little research that might not be considered totally green. Who am I kidding? Kindergarteners probably know that an RV is not the greenest way to travel. Well, I'm here to tell you that there is hope.

Wanting to travel with our 3 dogs brought us to the doorstep of an RV rental company. It seems that taking a longer trip with 3 dogs is not exactly designed for Delta Airlines, for instance. What other options does a dog owner have?

Our rental RV is a basic model, the smallest C-class available (bed over the cab), without all the bells and whistles that make an RV luxurious. For instance, it is lighter weight, has fewer electric and breakable specialty gadgets (no electric shade awnings with lights along the edges, no electric slide out compartments, small holding tanks for heavy stuff like water, etc.), little furniture, lightweight flooring and cabinetry and more. On second look, I realize that all these things may mean this RV won't outlive its more upscale models, but by nature of its lesser weight, gas mileage is supposed to approach double digits. We'll see.

As we travel, I'm working on ways to make an RV trip a bit more tolerable for my somewhat greener lifestyle. I've started a list of the things that can be done to an RV and its travel that would give it a leg up in the color spectrum. Before I start, though, I'm pleased to announce that this baby does have a solar water heater, which is backed up by propane, when sun is not available. Cool, huh?

First and foremost, TerraPass will gladly sell me a offset for the gasoline we're using. Basically, they put our money back into things that clean up the pollution caused by our gasoline usage. While that would take care of the lion's share, I feel there is much more I can do.

Fortunately, this RV uses regular gas, the cheapest available. And cheap it is here in North Carolina where we're camping in a rural area--$2.29 a gallon. I haven't seen it that cheap back home in, well, I don't remember.

So, what else can I do to feel I'm not sucking the planet of all its resources? With a little thought, quite a bit, actually. Check out my list:
  • It has been quite a while since I've camped, and I'm revisiting the "military shower" concept (or is it Navy?). By nature of having the water off while I lather up, I'm actually saving water on this trip by a ton over what I would use at home. That actually makes me feel good.
  • While camping, showers are less frequent, as activities like hiking with the dogs don't necessitate the perfect aroma of say, a wedding.
  • Likewise, clothes generally are worn twice before washing, unless they get particularly soiled or sweaty. It's cool and beautiful here and sweaty has not been an issue. I was glad to leave hot and humid back in Florida for a few days.
  • I find I'm also saving electricity. With only 2 electrical outlets in the RV, how much can one use at once? Sure, we're plugged into electric to suppport the interior lighting, but there's only a handful of those, so we're way below the electrical use we'd have at home. (Pat myself on the back; I'm feeling better already).
  • There are 3 systems on this RV that operate off of propane (as I understand it, a wee bit better than gasoline): refrigeration (minimal, it's very small), stove (nope, haven't used it and probably won't--I'm on vacation, after all!), and the hot water tank. It's a whopping 6 gallon tank that works off solar and propane, as needed.
  • I brought along three 10" X 10", battery operated (rechargeable, of course) fans to keep us cool, if needed. I even packed the recharger. So far, it doesn't look like we'll be needing them, but if we were camping in Florida I know they'd be working hard.
  • All four flashlights I packed (a little over kill, I'll admit) are powered by rechargeable batteries, and I'm armed with the recharger, too. Oh yeah, I already mentioned that.
  • Rather than toting along all manner of cleaners, I simply packed vegetable soap (useful for dishes, floors, dogs, showers, you name it), vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice. These will take care of most anything we need to clean up.
  • Planning in advance, I avoided buying plastic tableware by collecitng the take-out containers and extra flatware given to me at various take out restaurant visits over the past few months. I'm washing them as I use them, so there's no waste involved. The landfills are not going to suffer as a result of this trip.
  • Closing the drapes on the windows of the RV where the sun hits, helps to keep it cooler during the warmer afternoon hours, as does opening the windows and the 3 rooftop vents. Those are actually quite ingenious. One even has a little fan to draw heat up and out.
  • While most campgrounds are wooded, this affords shade to keep cool in during the summer months. I suppose if we were camping during colder weather, we'd request a site in full sun to help warm up the camper with natural solar heat. I'll remember that tip if we decide to go all out and take one of these trips to Canada and Alaska.
  • One tip to save propane that the rental official gave us has definitely worked well; he suggested placing our beverages for our "on-the-road" days in a cooler near the cab area to allow for (1) fewer refrigerator openings and (2) no trips back and forth to get drinks.
  • Traveling with the dogs means planning for their needs, as well. I packed biodegradable poop collection bags, as always, along with a couple of pop-up nylon crates for when we stop at other's homes. These are lighter weight, by far than the metals ones most of us use at home. Everything I can do to limit the onboard weight means better gas mileage. Lucky Oliver got to bring his usual crate. He's so small he could sleep ina shoe box, so I just packed his regular one.
  • We're not towing a vehicle, but I did put a bicycle in the large storage area for running nearby errands or simply to exercise the dogs. That came in handly one evening when the pups were itching to get out and explore. We took a brisk run up to the highway and back, and the boys slept like babies.
  • Now for some of the surprises we are learning on our RV adventure: (1) Our "bare bones" RV has no TV or video player like many of the posh ones do. That means we're taking advantage of nature's entertainment--hiking, exploring, etc. This is good exercise for all of us and assures a better night's sleep.
  • Camping is a good lesson in simpler living--less clutter, just the necessities means that you learn to made do, and you enjoy the simple pleasures of reading, nature and good conversation. A deck of cards comes in handy, as well. My son won the Gin Rummy tournament.
  • Simpler meals, less cooking, less power and water usage. It all adds up to an RV vacation that's closer to green than even I thought it could be.
Be sure to check back, as my time off definitely fueled the creativity. I'll be bringing you a post soon on how we managed to continue to eat largely all-natural while on our camping adventure. Other upcoming posts will include a food labeling update, tips on limiting processed foods in your diet with shopping strategies, green fitness options and their costs, an all-natural pest control review, Breast vs. Bottle, Diapers: Cloth vs Disposable, and a review of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Whew! That was a mouthful.

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